PL preview: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal

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  • Tottenham 5th in PL, 1 point back of Chelsea
  • Arsenal 6th, 4 points back of Spurs
  • Arsenal won first meeting this season, 2-0

In the Premier League, the paths that clubs take matter very little, for over the course of a 38-game season, they typically end up right where they belong. Long winless skids are evened out by runs of good fortune and fortuitous results, and vice versa.

Take, for example, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, the north London powers who have finished five of the last eight seasons occupying consecutive places(*) in the final Premier League table; they were separated by just one spot in two of the other three(**); last season was the lone exception, when Tottenham finished second and Arsenal finished fifth.

TOT ARS
2009-10* 4th 3rd
2010-11* 5th 4th
2011-12* 4th 3rd
2012-13* 5th 4th
2013-14** 6th 4th
2014-15** 5th 3rd
2015-16* 3rd 2nd
2016-17 2nd 5th

The current season, like so many to precede it, has seen Spurs and Arsenal set out in drastically different directions — Spurs were the side who thrashed their Champions League group, which included Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, while the Gunners suffered the indignity of the Europa League — but after six and a half months of the PL season, they enter Saturday’s north London derby (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com) with not another soul standing between them.

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There will almost certainly only be room for one of the two — if any — inside the top-four this season. Thus, Saturday’s clash at Wembley Stadium will carry a great deal of added incentive, particularly for Arsenal, who not only hope to overthrow Spurs, and Chelsea and/or Liverpool, for a top-four finish, but also to re-establish their superiority in north London after finishing behind Spurs last season for the first time in 22 years.

Spurs are the side in far better form over the last six games (12 points to 8), though they’ve also endured a more taxing period of fixtures thanks to their ongoing participation in the FA Cup, including a replay against League Two side Newport County on Wednesday, as well as clashes with fellow top-five sides Manchester United and Liverpool. Harry Kane joined the PL’s 100-goal club last weekend against Liverpool, and the two-time defending (soon-to-be three?) Golden Boot winner has 13 goals to his name in his last 10 appearances (all competitions).

INJURIES: Spurs — PROBABLE: Lucas Moura (fitness) | Arsenal — OUT: Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Danny Welbeck (hamstring); DOUBTFUL: Petr Cech (calf)

What they’re saying…

Mauricio Pochettino, on the strength of two sides: “Arsenal will be tough to play, they have good quality, talented players and are one of the best teams in the league. I cannot say if they look stronger or not than they were since their new signings. We are focused on us. I don’t care. They play with 11, we play with 11.”

Arsene Wenger, on the rivalry: “There is always huge passion before the game and the emotion at stake means it becomes a bit more agitated; but this season, if you look at the table, this is a very important game. For us, it is an opportunity to come back closer to the Champions League places, which is a priority.”

Prediction

A frantic pace. Disjointed play. Hard, desperate tackles flying in from all directions. Everything you expect from a frenzied, consequential derby of this caliber. Plus, a Harry Kane goal or two. Spurs 3-2 Arsenal.

Wolfsburg keeps Bundesliga spot with playoff win

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Wolfsburg managed a 1-0 win (4-1 on aggregate) over Holstein Kiel on Monday in the second leg of its German promotion playoff as the Bundesliga side kept its place in the top flight.

Robin Knoche scored the game-winner in the second leg, which ensured Wolfsburg’s stay in the Bundesliga ahead of the 2017/18 season.

The hosts boasted a number of quality chances in the first half, including David Kinsombi’s close-range shot that tested Wolfsburg keeper Koen Casteels with a save, however, Holstein couldn’t break through.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender John Brooks went the full 90 minutes for Wolfsburg, after the 25-year-old made nine starts this season for the German side in league play.

Injuries aren’t halting Red Bulls from proving to be MLS’ top club

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It would have been understandable if the New York Red Bulls dropped their heads in agony last month after the club’s disappointing CONCACAF Champions League defeat to eventual tournament winners Chivas de Guadalajara.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Vieira close to signing contract with Nice ]

That wasn’t the case though, and for manager Jesse Marsch and Co., the club has been rewarded in the biggest of ways for its perseverance.

Sunday night’s 3-1 win over Atlanta United proved once again in 2018 that this season’s Red Bulls are the class of MLS for a number of reasons.

The team’s 7-3-0 start is its best in modern Red Bulls history, which dates back nine seasons to when Red Bull Arena was first opened in 2010.

Marsch and his group currently ride a four-match win streak, which includes away wins over LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and Atlanta, with a 4-0 beatdown of rivals New York City FC bunched in the middle of the road trip.

It’s easy to look at wins and losses to determine which teams are serious MLS Cup contenders and others that will struggle throughout the season, but when diving deeper into this Red Bulls team, there are a lot of special qualities that make them different than previous years.

Heading into 2018, questions surrounded the team following Sacha Kljestan’s departure for Orlando City, as well as the club’s ability to defend with a back line that didn’t appear to have much depth.

The Kljestan question has not only been answered, but turned into Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra becoming a household MLS name and legitimate MVP and Newcomer of the Year candidate.

The Argentine (possibly turning Paraguayan) leads MLS in assists (9) through the Red Bulls first 10 matches, after Kljestan posted 17 for the club during the 2017 campaign.

Kaku is a spark plug that manages to find himself in the right positions on the field at any given moment, and his work rate perfectly matches what Marsch his instilled in the squad since the moment he first arrived.

Defensively, the Red Bulls have far exceeded expectations, conceding the fourth-fewest goals (12) in MLS, despite a host of injuries.

Jamaica international Kemar Lawrence went down with a scary injury on Sunday, leaving his immediate availability with the club unknown, while Homegrown player Kyle Duncan will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

Tyler Adams also went down with an injury against Atlanta, however, it isn’t believed to be serious.

That’s not including outside back Connor Lade, who has battled an ankle injury early in the 2018 campaign as well.

While the addition of Kaku has paid dividends in the biggest of ways in the attack though, it was the Red Bulls ability to bring in center back Tim Parker from the Vancouver Whitecaps that has really changed the team’s outlook at the back.

Parker has formed a strong bond with fellow central defensive partner Aaron Long, and the two are easily the best center back pairing in MLS through the opening two-plus months.

The bigger test for the club in the long-term will be if Lawrence does miss significant playing time, though.

That would force Marsch to rely more on Lade, who only returned from injury on Sunday to replace Lawrence, or young outside back Ethan Kutler, unless the Red Bulls manager opts to switch to a three-back system (as he has done in the past).

The Red Bulls will have to also battle through the concerns that come with the World Cup this summer, which will likely force defenders Michael Murillo and Fidel Escobar to leave the squad for their Panama national team duties.

Nainggolan ends Belgium career after World Cup snub

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As World Cup squads fill out their rosters ahead of next month’s great tournament in Russia, a number of high-profile names won’t feature at the World Cup.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Spanish Chelsea trio ]

Belgium named its 28-man provisional squad on Monday, which includes Premier League stars Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, however, one notable midfielder was left out of Roberto Martinez’s squad.

Radja Nainggolan won’t be on the plane to Russia next month for the Red Devils, who take on England, Panama and Tunisia in the group stage.

That decision by Martinez has prompted the AS Roma midfielder to end his international career, which Nainggolan revealed in a social media post following the announcement.

Martinez commented on the Roma player’s omission from the roster.

“Radja is a top player,” Martinez said. “The reason is tactical. In the last two years the team has worked in a specific manner. Other players had those roles.

“We know that he has a very important role in his club and we cannot give him that role in our squad.”

Emery set to replace Wenger at Arsenal

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Unai Emery will be the next man up for Arsenal, with the BBC calling it a “unanimous choice” from Arsenal’s search committee.

[ MORE: Nashville hires ex-Liverpool CEO ]

The BBC’s David Ornstein is reporting that Arsenal will appoint the ex-PSG and Sevilla boss as its new manager.

Emery had massive success with Sevilla in tournament and league play, and led PSG on a rollicking run through Ligue 1 but was deemed replaceable thanks to a Neymar-less loss in the UEFA Champions League.

The Basque manager will be the first Arsenal manager not named Arsene Wenger since the Frenchman took over at the Emirates on Oct. 1, 1996.

It feels a natural fit, as Emery has had success with multiple systems at both favorites and relative underdogs.

Emery has also overseen Spartak Moscow, Almeria, and Valencia.

Mikel Arteta and Thierry Henry were also rumored as potential Wenger successors.